Blindness and Guide Dog Etiquette
Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) is dedicated to creating greater inclusion by providing education about blindness etiquette. Here are some pointers to help ensure everyone has a positive experience.
- Treat a person who is blind the same as you would anyone else. People who are blind do the same things as you, but may use different techniques.
- Speak in a normal tone of voice and talk directly to the person, not to their guide dog or companion.
- Be mindful when asking about causes of blindness. This is highly personal information.
- Do not pull, steer, or grab a person.
- It is ok to use common, everyday words and phrases like “look,” “see,” or “watching TV.”
- If someone looks as though they may need assistance, ask. If a person is about to encounter a dangerous situation, voice your concerns in a calm and clear manner.
- Provide specific directions, such as “ten feet to the right,” or “left at the next corner,” instead of vague descriptions like “over there.”
- Offer your elbow or arm for someone to hold as a way to guide a person through an environment that could be confusing or dangerous. It is ok if you’re inexperienced as a human guide— you can always ask for tips on how to improve.
- Be considerate. If you notice something amiss with a person’s clothing, accessories, or body, mention it tactfully and/or privately.
- In a restaurant, offer to read the menu and receipt aloud, and be sure to describe the items and location of what is on the table. Never assume someone would not want to order their own meal. When the food arrives, ask if the person would like to know where things are on the plate, and give specific descriptions, such as: “The rice is at the top of the plate.”
Laws in the U.S. and Canada, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, permit people who have guide dogs the same access to places where the general public is allowed, including taxis, ride share vehicles, and all modes of public transportation, as well as restaurants, theaters, stores, schools, hotels, office buildings, and more. When you encounter a person with a guide dog, here are some important tips to keep in mind.
- Please do not pet or talk to a guide dog. The dog should never be distracted from its job of guiding a person. It is ok, however, to ask someone to meet their guide. Many people enjoy introducing their dogs if the time is right.
- Do not offer a guide dog food or other distracting treats.
- Please don’t touch or steer a guide dog’s harness.
- Keep your pet dog leashed and at a respectful distance.
- Refrain from calling out directions to a person with a guide dog or intentionally obstructing their path. The person and dog have been trained to navigate the environment safely and independently, including street crossings. Similarly, please don’t honk your car horn to signal when it is safe to cross a street. Even with the best of intentions, such actions can be distracting, confusing, and dangerous.
- Please don’t offer toys to a guide dog without asking the person’s permission. Guide dogs enjoy ample play time when they are not working, but for their health and safety, they are only allowed to play with specific toys.
This information is intended to help you understand how important guide dogs are to people who are blind or visually impaired and to stress the importance of responsible pet ownership. Please help us keep these valuable service animals from becoming injured or disabled.
Working Guide Dogs
Guide dogs have been used to enhance mobility for more than eighty years in North America. A guide dog is specially trained to lead a person in a straight line, stop for curbs and stairs and avoid obstacles. Their job is to help their human partners move about in the world safely and with confidence, whether they are going through crowds of pedestrians, across busy intersections, or facing other travel challenges. The job requires concentration and distractions can endanger the safety of the team.
Most guide dogs are Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers, although other breeds are used as well. These dogs are well-suited to their work as guides and are bred for their excellent temperament, intelligence and health. Guide dogs are allowed by law to have access to all public places including: restaurants, businesses, stores, hotels, busses, taxis, trains and airplanes.
According to Kenneth Phillips, the nation's leading legal expert in dog bite law: There are almost 5 million dog bites per year. About 800,000 victims per year require medical treatment. 1,000 dog bite victims per day are seen in hospital emergency rooms. This is a serious matter for the general public and is even more so for blind or visually impaired persons who choose to use guide dogs as their primary means of mobility. Loose dogs can be a significant threat to guide dog teams.
A guide dog that is attacked or intimidated by an aggressive or unruly pet dog may become damaged for life and unable to work as a guide. An attack can take a huge emotional toll on the guide dog user. In many states, laws have been enacted to protect guide dog handlers and their dogs from attack and harassment by errant dogs and people. The irresponsible dog owner can be held financially liable for the actions of their unsupervised pets, and may be accountable for the replacement costs of $50,000 or more for the guide dog. Under certain circumstances the pet owner can also be incarcerated for up to six months. For more information on Federal and State legislation relating to dog attacks on working guides, visit our Guide Dog Access Information page.
Tips for Responsible Dog Ownership
- Please do not allow your pet dog to roam freely in your neighborhood or to be unsupervised in an unfenced yard. Educate your family about how to prevent your pet from escaping from your yard and roaming in your neighborhood. Self-closing gates can be the answer to keeping your dog at home.
- If you have your dog on leash, make sure that he is under control. Do not allow your dog to be walked by a person who is not strong enough to control or restrain him.
- Learn about canine behavior and take obedience classes with your pet dog. Be sure your dog is well socialized around other animals and people.
- Be aware of your own dog’s temperament and potential for biting. Even an overly friendly pet that jumps on people or other dogs can cause serious problems. Dogs are often territorial in their own yards, and sometimes even beyond the boundaries of their own home. Irresponsibility or apathy in this regard may cost you dearly!
- When choosing a pet dog, research the breed before you bring the dog home. Some breeds require more exercise, attention, control, and leadership than others. Although any dog or breed of dog can become aggressive, there are certain breeds that are more prone to problematic behavior than others.
- Be aware of your city and county leash laws and obey them.
- Take pride in being a responsible, intelligent, and capable pet owner.
- If you witness an attack on a guide dog team, please call animal control and the police to report it. Include as many details as possible. Even though the guide dog user may be blind, they are perfectly capable of noting identifying information and reporting an attack.
Download the blindness and guide dog etiquette handouts.